Auckland City’s late burst topples Olympic in OFC Champions League qualifier

A second-half comeback has enabled Auckland City to scrape past arch-rivals Wellington Olympic to qualify for May’s OFC Champions League.

Down 1-3 at half-time, the Navy Blues fought their way back for a 3-3 draw, to win their two-legged play-off 4-3 on aggregate.

It means the reigning OFC Men’s Champions League winners will be back to defend their title in 2024, when they’ll represent New Zealand at the tournament in Tahiti.

Main photo: Agony and the ecstacy … Auckland City captain Cam Howieson celebrates his goal that clinches the 3-3 draw while Olympic’s defenders show their disappointment. Photo credit: OFC Media / Phototek.

Going into the second leg 1-0 down, Wellington Olympic surged into a 3-1 lead by half-time at Wellington’s Martin Luckie Park.

Auckland City’s Dylan Manickum and Olympic’s Jesse Randall looked lively in the opening 20 minutes, but few chances came in a back-and-forth start to the game.

From here, the first half burst into life, with a flurry of goals.

Hamish Watson got the first in the 20th minute, finishing cooly after a long goal kick from Scott Basalaj was met by a poor defensive header from Auckland City’s Jordan Vale.

Minutes later, following calls for a penalty as Jack-Henry Sinclair went down in the box, Randall quickly nipped in and directed the ball into the bottom left corner, making it 2-0 on the day and putting Olympic ahead on aggregate.

The Navy Blues quickly responded, however, to level it up again.

Manickum’s deflected effort was superbly saved by Basalaj but an unmarked Mario Ilich headed in from Liam Gillion’s resulting corner to snag a goal back.

Wellington Olympic striker Hamish Watson … scored twice for the home side. Photo credit: OFC Media / Phototek.

Hardly a minute later, Olympic led the tie again, as a save made by Auckland City keeper Conor Tracey saw the ball fly into the path of Watson, who emphatically headed home into an empty net to restore Olympics’ lead on aggregate.

Opportunities on goal continued to come freely for both sides in an end-to-end finish to the first-half, with Auckland City searching an equaliser and Olympic looking to push further ahead with their attacking momentum.

A strong start to the second period reaped almost immediate reward for Auckland City.

A cross from Nathan Lobo came to the feet of Regont Murati, who controlled the ball and smashed it in from short range to bring the tie level again.

With the aggregate score level, the tempo dropped off for a period, with both sides showing more caution with so much at stake.

Just after the hour mark, the teams emerged from their shells and ‘keepers Basalaj and Tracey became more involved with some promising crosses and efforts on goal.

Gillion, in particular, looked dangerous for the visitors as both teams make use of their benches.

Into the last ten minutes, the Navy Blues found the goal they were desperate for. A long ball forward was cleanly controlled by Howieson before he fired into the back of the net to give Auckland City an aggregate lead to defend.

Olympic sought to find an equaliser, with substitute Oliver Colloty forcing a great save from Tracey, but the Navy Blues defence held firm.

Auckland City’s Cam Howieson (left) and Olympic’s Jesse Randall battle for midfield possession. Photo: Phototek.

What the win means

Auckland City go into Group A of the eight-club OFC Men’s Champions League to be held in Tahiti from May 11-24, 2024.

Their group opponents will be Solomon Islands Warriors (Solomon Islands), Hekari United (Papua New Guinea) and  Rewa (Fiji).

Group B qualifiers are AS Pirae (Tahiti), Vaivase-tai FC (Samoa). Ifira Black Bird (Vanuatu) and AS Magenta (New Caledonia).

The winners of the OFC Men’s Champions League will qualify to represent Oceania at a new annual FIFA club competition, the FIFA Intercontinental Cup.

The first staging of the six-club tournament will be in December.

READ MORE: Pathway confirmed for New Zealand clubs in new annual FIFA competition >>>>

Auckland City take home trophy

The 4-3 win on aggregate also means Auckland City reclaim the Mediterranean Cup which is played for between the clubs, a trophy played for between the two clubs to acknowledge their Croatian and Greek roots.

Olympic carried off the trophy in late 2023.

READ MORE: Seven-year record comes to an end for Auckland City at Kiwitea Street >>>>


We acknowledge the assistance of OFC Media in providing information for our reports.


Game played on Saturday March 16, 2024

Wellington Olympic 3 (Hamish Watson 20′, 28′, Jesse Randall 23′)
Auckland City 3 (Mario Ilich 27′, Regont Murati 48′, Cam Howieson 81′)

Auckland City win 4-3 on aggregate.


Wellington Olympic’s starting line-up. Photo: Phototek.

Wellington Olympic

Scott Basalaj, Adam Supyk, Justin Gulley, Tor Davenport Petersen, Jesse Randall (Oliver Colloty 79′), Hamish Watson, Kailan Gould (Eddie Wilkinson 65′), Jack-Henry Sinclair, Ben Mata (captain), Gavin Hoy, Kaelin Nguyen (Jonty Roubos 55′).

Subs not used: Alex Britton, Matthew King, Gabiriele Matanisiga, William Vincent, Luke Tongue, Samuel Mitrakas, Tamupiwa Dimairo, Isa Prins, Joel Coustrain.

Auckland City’s starting line-up. Photo: Phototek.

Auckland City

Conor Tracey, Mario Ilich (Tong Zhou 81′), Christian Gray, Cam Howieson, Gerard Garriga (Joe Lee 72′), Dylan Manickum (Ryan De Vries 75′), Regont Murati (Stipe Ukich 81′), Nathan Lobo, Jordan Vale, Liam Gillion, Michael den Heijer

Subs not used: Joe Wallis, Adam Mitchell, Alfie Rogers.


Referee: CK Kawana-Waugh
Assistants: Isaac Trevis, Mark Rule
Fourth official: Cory Mills
Referee assessor: Jamie Cross
Co-ordinator: Jay Aickin

Match programme

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